On physical media vs Intellectual Property

Note: I read this post aloud for the Modern Evil Podcast, today. Episode 86.

Related somewhat to my recent post about some of my perceived problems with eBooks, tonight I noticed a similar problem with music.  As I tweeted a little while ago, “Listening to previews of the songs on Moby’s new album in iTunes. Makes me want to go out and buy it on CD. I don’t trust dl-only anything.”  I then went on a bit on Twitter, saying that if I could easily and always access what I’d paid for “from the cloud” on any device, for life, that’s one thing. Currently: it’s simply too easy to lose digital media.  I know corporations want me to keep re-buying my content, over and over, with each new format. I say f_ck that. Sell me a license to the IP, don’t sell me the container & expect me to re-buy the IP if the container breaks.  Yes, I’m supposed to back up my digital purchases… but buying the CD is buying the music PLUS a high-quality backup I can play in my car!  If I buy the music from iTunes, I have to make my own backup, on less-reliable (and uglier) media.  Why would I want that?

Yes, as with eBooks, there is convenience. It would be nice when, as in this example, I wake up at midnight, find an email about Moby’s new album, listen to the previews and think it’s great, I could instantly buy a copy of the music without having to worry about when stores are open and where this particular CD might be available.  (ie: Super WalMart is open right now, but they don’t stock all the music, just some of the music, and supporting them is economically dubious.  I prefer to buy from Zia, a locally owned chain of record shops, but they don’t open until 10AM, by which time the allure of “now” will likely have faded into “someday”.)  With a digital purchase (or the sort of “I’m buying a license to this IP” idea I suggested above), I could have instant access to the music or the eBook (or the movie, or software, or whatever), and instant is good.

But then there’s also the bad of digital.  The inconveniences.  Yes, iTunes is now (sortof) DRM-free, so the “I can only play this song on 5 devices” rule isn’t as problematic, though I do have a chunk of music with that problem.  Some eBooks have DRM, some don’t.  But here’s a problem: by buying a digital-only copy of the music/book, if I lose that copy I have to buy it again.  Yes, this is true of all buying-the-container systems: If I lose the CD, I have to buy it again.  If I lose the paperback, I have to buy it again.  But it’s much, much easier to lose digital goods than it is to lose physical goods.  Hard drives crash.  Files become corrupt. Or lost. I buy a new computer every couple/few years.  I buy a new iPhone every couple of years. I bought new iPods every couple of years before that.

Earlier I said “I don’t trust dl-only anything.” — I have reason to say this.  I have bought, and lost, I-don’t-know-how-much-money’s-worth-of-music &c. over the years.  Yes, I made backups.  In some cases, the backups were lost.  In some cases the backups failed.  At one point I was backing up to tape and then the drive broke and I discovered the company was out of business and replacements had become very, very expensive on the resale market.  In one case, I actually used iTunes’ built in “backup your digital purchases” function to do a complete backup before format/upgrade of OS, and found that -randomly- huge swaths of my music had not been backed up.  Many albums only had one or two songs left after restore, many paid-for singles were simply missing.  I followed all the directions to the letter, and they had failed.  Luckily, most of my music comes from CDs, so over the last few years as I’ve discovered missing tracks I’ve been able to grab the CDs and re-rip them.  Not so of digital purchases.  I am missing Long Tall Weekend completely and -as far as I know- can never get it back.  (Or maybe I can get it back if I pay for it again.)

We live in the future. DRM is a watchword on everyone’s lips, but they’re using it wrong.  I love the idea of Digital Rights Management -what those words acutally say- because I dream of a future where, when I’m shopping at iTunes or the Kindle store or Smashwords or whatever, what I’m actually paying for with a purchase is the right to listen/read/use the IP I’m paying for, rather than the container.  I dream of a future where my rights to listen to a particular song or album will be managed digitally and I’ll be able to access it regardless of device failure/upgrade.  I dream of a future where I can buy the book ‘Let the Right One In’ and access it instantly as an eBook on my choice of devices or -because my digital rights are protected- have a copy printed up on a local EBM or by an online service for only the actual printing cost (ie: without having to pay for the IP again).  I dream of a future where DRM is a good thing for consumers, instead of the weapon it currently is, wielded by corporations against the very people whose purchases support them.

Physical media -CDs, paper books, DVDs, et cetera- should not be what I’m buying any more than the container that is a digital download (ie: this particular .mp3 file contains a copy of this song) should be.  Smashwords gets this concept right – you pay once for a Smashwords title and you can dl it as many times as you’d like, in as many formats as they can produce, for as long as Smashwords exists.  (Which will hopefully be at least until my dream DRM system is implemented.)  Kindle … sortof gets it, in that you can re-dl your titles with WhisperSync, but doesn’t really get it, since you can’t re-dl a title that’s been removed.  (ie: if a Publisher decides they don’t want to sell that book on Kindle anymore, they remove it and you’d better hope you had a backup.  Or, apparently, if they put out a revised edition of the book, they may remove the old one -and then you have to re-buy it if you ever lose the file or want it on a different device! WTF‽)  Do you get it?

I try to do it right, but since I’m one guy, not a mega-corp, the easiest way for me to manage it is to simply make free, DRM-free copies of the eBook and audiobook available alongside pay versions of each.  If you pay for one, you don’t need to pay for the others (though you can).  Unfortunately this leaves the “paper is best” standard in full effect – I have no easy way to give away a free copy of the paperback with purchase of the eBook.  Someday.

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Author, artist, romantic, insomniac, exorcist, creative visionary, lover, and all-around-crazy-person.

One thought on “On physical media vs Intellectual Property”

  1. Found this article on some problems with the Kindle. Apparently I haven't fully grasped the difficulties Kindle users may run into with downloading their books again – but I think this is more a publishers problem than an Amazon one, right now.

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